Covid-19 (Agricultural Shows and Fairs)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 9th September 2020.

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Photo of Alexander Burnett Alexander Burnett Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government what support is available to the agricultural shows and fairs that have had to cancel due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the rural communities and charities that rely on the income these generate. (S5O-04566)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

There is no doubt that the loss of agricultural and Highland shows and fairs this year has been acutely felt in rural communities, not least given the loss of the social interaction and economic activity that they provide and create.

Some show committees have moved their events online, while others have postponed or cancelled them completely. A few have gone ahead with events after undertaking appropriate risk assessments and putting in place distancing and hygiene measures. We have published guidance for running outdoor events. We expect organisers to strictly adhere to the guidance and to use it as a supporting document to ensure that their show or fair can go ahead safely.

Photo of Alexander Burnett Alexander Burnett Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and ask him to join me in welcoming the virtual Highland games that will take place this Saturday, 12 September. Has he come across any other alternative and innovative ways for such events to continue?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am happy to join the member in welcoming that event, and I pay tribute to the organisers for their imagination. Other virtual events have taken place in Scotland. The Scottish Rural Network has launched a Covid-19 information hub, and the Scottish smallholder festival has moved online for 2020.

We all miss shows and events—I have been attending my local events for more decades than I wish to remember. They are a fulcrum of rural and social activity in our country, and they really are sorely missed, so we all look forward to seeing them resume next year.

Photo of Angus MacDonald Angus MacDonald Scottish National Party

The impact of Covid-19 clearly highlights how vital the agricultural sector is, not just to the economy but to ensuring that the nation is fed. Can the cabinet secretary outline how the Scottish Government will work to maximise the local promotion and purchase of fresh, healthy Scottish produce?

The Presiding Officer:

That question is quite broad, but Fergus Ewing can answer it briefly.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I agree with Angus MacDonald. During Covid, many individuals have revisited their eating habits and cooking arrangements, and there has been a marked move towards local food in many different ways. In this year’s programme for government, I have committed to developing a local food strategy for Scotland, and I am working as part of a ministerial group on the matter to publish a statement of national policy. As Mr MacDonald well knows, there are many ways in which we can celebrate and encourage the increased consumption of high-quality local Scottish produce.

Photo of Gillian Martin Gillian Martin Scottish National Party

I share Alexander Burnett’s concern about the effects of the cancellation of agricultural shows, but that is just one aspect of the pain that the rural economy is feeling. The end of the United Kingdom Government’s furlough scheme is in sight, and the scheme is likely to be masking current and potential rural unemployment levels.

What support and assurance can the cabinet secretary offer the sectors in the rural economy in particular that have been worst affected by Covid? They are struggling to recover, given that the UK has so far refused to extend the scheme beyond October.

The Presiding Officer:

Again, that is a quite broad interpretation, but Fergus Ewing can answer briefly.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

We have provided support to alleviate hardship in numerous sectors, including the sea fish and shellfish sectors and the tourism sector—all the sectors that have been most affected by Covid.

Gillian Martin is absolutely right. When the furlough scheme expires in October, it will leave hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland, and millions across the UK—millions—facing potential redundancy. That is why I have urged Nigel Huddleston, my counterpart as the UK tourism minister, to make the strongest possible representations to the Treasury to urge it to revisit its refusal to extend the furlough scheme or at least to replace it with a job support package. Otherwise, I fear that there will be unemployment that is unprecedented in our joint lifetimes, Presiding Officer, which is quite a few years.

The Presiding Officer:

I thank you for that vote of confidence, Mr Ewing.